Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape
Emergence from the constraints imposed by the pandemic has led to an abundance of cricket in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape
  • An easing of COVID-19 constraints has led to an abundance of play in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures

Throughout cricket, when the person batting has scored 50 runs, it is normally the cue for applause, the strength of which will be according to the manner and style of the innings. In former days of league cricket in northern England, when the professional reached 50, it was customary for a club official to go around the spectators with a box asking for small change to be proffered in recognition of the feat.

This is my 50th column for the Arab News. In recognition of this, I organized my own collection — that of recurring topics which have emerged during the compilation of these columns. Too many emerged to be discussed in one column. Hence, I will focus on those which have material implications for the future of the game.

Acting as a backdrop to the whole year has been the impact of COVID-19. It is easy to forget that, at this stage of 2021, preparations were being made in England for international matches to be staged at biosecure venues in front of a restricted number of spectators. This method of “keeping the show on the road” worked for a time, but players began to feel the pressure, leading to concerns for their mental well-being. These are now being taken more seriously.

Another lasting impact of the pandemic on cricket has been the way it has been forced to adapt its products and revenue streams. The Indian Premier League could not be played in India in March/April 2020. It was later switched to the UAE, taking place between mid-September and mid-November, thus preserving its media and sponsorship income streams. In 2021, the IPL began in India but was suspended halfway through, resuming in the UAE in September.

Apart from ensuring that the tournaments were completed, the switches also provided the UAE with enhanced exposure within the cricketing world.

This was further highlighted to a broader audience when the delayed men’s 2020 T20 World Cup, due to be hosted by India, was played in the UAE, plus Oman, in October/November 2021. Additional stimulus has been provided by positive performances from both men’s and women’s teams in the UAE and Oman, plus Bahrain, in World Cup qualifying 20 and 50-over competitions. All of this points to a real advance in competitiveness within these countries, on and off the field.

Emergence from the constraints imposed by the pandemic has led to an abundance of cricket in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures.

Into this mix, new tournaments have been added or existing ones expanded. In 2021, The Hundred was introduced in England and Wales, a format played nowhere else in the world, designed to appeal to a younger spectator.

In the same year, a T20 minor League Cricket Championship was introduced in the US, consisting of 27 teams from four regions. This is a developmental league for the US major Cricket League, planned for six cities in 2023.

In 2022, the IPL was expanded from eight to 10 franchises, necessitating an extension in its duration. Within the last year, the direction of travel for cricket, in terms of a focus on the T20 format, has been reaffirmed, especially in emerging countries.

What has also been reaffirmed is the dominance of Australian cricket in both men’s and women’s cricket. This is based on its men’s team winning the T20 World Cup in November in the UAE, its crushing of England in the 2020/21 Ashes. The women’s team won the 50-over ODI World Cup in April, and beat England in a combined Test and short format series in January/February. For the time being, India’s bid to dominate has been halted in recent months, partly because of a hiatus caused by changes of coach and captain.

One of the most significant developments in the last 12 months has been the increased support for women’s cricket. This has taken the form of increased funding, increased audiences, both in person and on media channels and increased remuneration, although gender parity has not yet been reached. Most women’s cricket is played to the shorter formats and cricket’s authorities seem reluctant to increase the opportunities for women’s Test cricket.

It is in India where women’s cricket has the greatest latent potential, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been slow to provide the platforms for its realization. Even recently, it expressed the view that, at this stage, there is not enough depth in the women’s game in India to justify further investment. This has been accompanied by vague talk about a women’s IPL.

Despite the current president of the MCC being a woman, as well as holding the post of managing director of women’s cricket for the England and Wales Cricket Board, cricket remains a game dominated by male administrators.

By way of example, only one of the 18 professional county cricket clubs in England and Wales currently has a woman in the post of either chair or CEO. Somewhat bucking the fashion, one county had a woman in both positions in 2019. Neither are still in post. The chair, herself a woman of color, stepped down in November 2021, apparently saddened by the high-profile allegations of racism within the domestic game.

My column of Nov. 24, 2021 covered those revelations. They rocked cricket, especially in Britain, where inquiries, sackings and recriminations ensued.

These have died down, but the problem cannot have dissipated overnight. Out of the key recurring topics of the last year — coping with the impact of the pandemic, recognition of mental health issues, continuing growth of T20 competitions, surge in support for women’s cricket, limelight for the UAE and Oman, and Australia’s resurgence — racism is the most concerning one.

Work is underway within the game to counter its impact and bring about behavioral change. However, progress is not always obvious and needs monitoring. Time is required to educate and develop the willingness to change among those who remain in doubt.


World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round
Updated 27 June 2022

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round
  • She will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32

LONDON: World number two Ons Jabeur eased into the Wimbledon second round on Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund.
Jabeur, a quarter-finalist in 2021 and fresh from the grass-court title in Berlin, will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32.


2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress
Saudi Arabia recently won the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan. (SAFF)
Updated 27 June 2022

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress
  • The Young Falcons won the Kingdom’s debut U-23 Asian Cup title
  • Saudi women’s team took second pace in the WAFF Futsal Championship

RIYADH: The triumph of the Young Falcons at the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup and the recent successes of the women’s national team has marked yet more milestones for Saudi Arabian football this year, after the senior team qualified for the World Cup in Qatar and the Kingdom’s clubs rack up great results in continental competitions.

Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “The success of the Saudi national teams demonstrates that our strategy is yielding positive results. Bringing back to the Kingdom the AFC U-23 Asian Cup for the first time ever with our very own Saudi national coach, Saad Al-Shehri, is a source of great pride and satisfaction.

“The players who achieved this great feat will be part of the main drivers of the success of our National Team going forward.”

He added: “This gives us greater confidence and trust in our younger generation, beside the achievements we had this year for both men’s and women’s football. We are working on developing a pathway tailored for every up-and-coming Saudi footballer on the grassroots level.

“We are working on extending a very large pool of Saudi talent with the support needed for the upcoming generations of Saudi football to match the highest professional levels of the game, be it in the technical and tactical aspects of the game, as well as the dietary, psychological, physical and athletic aspects.”

The U-23 victory comes soon after the senior Green Falcons team qualified for their sixth World Cup participation ahead of this year’s tournament in Qatar. Herve Renard’s team topped their qualification group, which featured continental giants such as Japan and Australia.

The Saudi Pro League continues to grow in quality and importance at the Asian level, with Al-Hilal currently the holders of the AFC Champions League title. This year, three Saudi teams are set to feature in the competition’s round of 16, with Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Faisaly having topped their respective groups in the first round.

Earlier this month, the Saudi Futsal National Team also grabbed the silver medal in the West Asian Football Federation’s Futsal Championship. The Green Falcons demonstrated incredible quality throughout the tournament, before narrowly losing 5-3 to hosts Kuwait in the final. The team continued their fine run of form on the road reaching the quarterfinals in the Futsal Arab Cup taking place in Dammam following a thrilling 3-2 encounter against Iraq that ended their campaign.

Saudi women have also enjoyed their fair share of success in football this year. In February, the newly launched Saudi Women’s National Team played its first ever official games against the Seychelles and the Maldives, winning both games with the same 2-0 result. 

The Kingdom concluded their successful hosting of the 2022 West Asian Football Federation’s Women’s Futsal Championship in Jeddah, where the Saudi Women’s Futsal National Team made its debut in the competition and claimed a silver medal following a 4-2 defeat in the final against Iraq.


WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut
Updated 27 June 2022

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut
  • June 2022 had been dedicated to the legendary wrestler’s arrival on SmackDown two decades ago

RIYADH: Twenty years on from John Cena’s arrival on SmackDown, the legendary wrestler makes an appearance on RAW tonight, the highlight of the WWE’s month-long celebration of his career.

Cena has since those early days become a household name in the WWE, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. The WWE had dedicated the month of June 2022 to the performer.

While his return opponent is yet to be announced, the WWE Universe is in for an action-packed edition of the red brand as Cena steps into the ring for a landmark match tonight.

A joint-record 16-time world champion, Cena has won the WWE Championship 13 times which is also a record. He is also a five-time US Champion, a four-time world tag team champion, a two-time Royal Rumble match winner, a one-time Money in the Bank victor, and has headlined many major WWE events, including WrestleMania five times.

His first US title win was in New York’s Madison Square Garden, opening the 20th edition of WrestleMania in 2004, and delivering two “Attitude Adjustments” to the “Big Show” Paul White. That moment solidified his status as a rising attraction for the promotion.

A year later at WrestleMania 21 Cena would challenge John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) for the main event which marked the first world championship win for “The Champ.” His “I Quit” match against the former champion at Judgement Day in 2005 is still considered a classic.

The main event of WrestleMania 22 in 2006 saw John Cena beat “The Game” Triple H clean in the middle of the ring to retain his title. One year later WrestleMania 23 featured the now dominant WWE champion rise against D-Generation X counterpart and one of the greatest wrestlers of all time — “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels.

The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest events on the WWE calendar, and Cena has been involved in many epic showdowns in that event, prevailing in 2008 and 2013 as the winner.

Many fans consider Edge to be Cena’s fiercest rival and their feud certainly elevated both men to new heights. Edge memorably cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on a wounded Cena at New Year’s Revolution 2006 for his first WWE Championship win. Edge and Cena’s rivalry saw the two battle over the WWE Championship for the majority of 2006, and over the World Heavyweight Title in 2009. Their matches captivated WWE audiences, and both superstars have an outstanding 27 World Titles between them.

Cena has also crossed paths with Randy Orton numerous times in his career. During the 2000s the two were believed to be the top stars in the WWE. Between their first match in November 2005 and their last match in February of 2017, Cena and Orton faced each other 22 times in televised matches. The record between the two men is 13-7 in favor of Cena.

Cena faced the Rock for the first time at WrestleMania 28 in what was billed as a “Once In A Lifetime” match. The Rock defeated Cena in a 30-minute classic, but a year later Cena shocked the world at WrestleMania 29 by defeating the Rock for the WWE Championship.

Cena is also a winner of the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for 2018.


Al-Hilal on brink of another league title as they host Al-Faisaly

Al-Hilal on brink of another league title as they host Al-Faisaly
It will also be the third consecutive title for the reigning Saudi and Asian champions. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

Al-Hilal on brink of another league title as they host Al-Faisaly

Al-Hilal on brink of another league title as they host Al-Faisaly
  • The reigning Saudi and Asian champions need to match Al-Ittihad’s result against Al-Batin to secure a record 18th championship

DUBAI: Al-Hilal take on Al-Faisaly on Monday night at King Fahd International Stadium knowing that if they match Al-Ittihad’s result against Al-Batin, they will be crowned Saudi Pro League champions for a record 18th time.

It will also be the third consecutive title for the reigning Saudi and Asian champions.

The Riyadh giants trailed Al-Ittihad by 16 points earlier in the campaign but a remarkable run of form in the second half of the season now sees them lead the SPL table on goal difference. A win tonight will guarantee the title, regardless of what the team from Jeddah, who have suffered a late loss of form and nerve, does.

Although Al-Hilal are strong favorites to defeat Al-Faisaly and claim the league title, Argentine coach Ramon Diaz will warn against any complacency, particularly as he will be missing the services of defenders Ali Al-Bulaihi and Jang Hyun-soo.

History suggests, however, that Al-Hilal’s fans will be celebrating tonight, having seen their team defeat Al-Faisaly 17 times in their 23 meetings, with the other six ending in draws.

Meanwhile, Al-Faisaly, in 11th place, go into the match still unsure of whether they will be playing top tier football next season, an indication of just how many clubs are still fighting relegation as the season comes to a close.

Having played 12 consecutive seasons in the Saudi Pro League, Al-Faisaly are flirting with the drop going into the last day, as they did in the 2016-17 season.


Morocco and Iraq to meet in 2022 Arab Futsal Cup final

Morocco and Iraq to meet in 2022 Arab Futsal Cup final
Updated 27 June 2022

Morocco and Iraq to meet in 2022 Arab Futsal Cup final

Morocco and Iraq to meet in 2022 Arab Futsal Cup final
  • Victories over Egypt and Kuwait see the reigning champions and Iraq face off at the Green Hall in Dammam on Tuesday

DUBAI: Morocco and Iraq will meet in Tuesday’s final of the 2022 Arab Futsal Cup after successfully navigating their last-four clashes against Egypt and Kuwait respectively on Sunday night at the Green Hall in Dammam.

Morocco, who had beaten Libya in Friday’s quarterfinal, defeated Egypt 5-2 in their all-African clash, while Iraq — conquerors of hosts Saudi Arabia in the last eight — overcame Kuwait 2-1 in the other semifinal.

The 10-team tournament, organized by the Union of Arab Football Associations and hosted by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, kicked off on July 20, and is the sixth edition of the competition.

Previous winners include Egypt in 1998 and 2005, and Libya in 2007.